As we come to the end of Hispanic Heritage month, we have the honor to spotlight one of our very own writers, Colombian-American, Aida M Toro. She discuses everything about her cultural heritage to her favorite Colombian dish in this inside look into her history! This vivacious NYC journalist was born and raised in West New York, New Jersey. Still, her Colombian roots helped her stay grounded with the help of her family and, most importantly, her parents by instilling in her a love for her Colombian heritage. Hispanic Heritage month celebrates the Hispanic and Latino culture and history, as well as how Hispanic Americans have positively influenced and enriched our country and communities.
Toro is now a Fashion Editor at Mann Publications and a writer for Hobnob NYC and The House Magazine. She is a shining example of how being from a different culture can enrich our communities and be an inspiration to others. In this interview, we celebrate Toro, her personal journey, and the Hispanic heroes who paved the way for her to be where she is today!
Can you briefly tell us about yourself, and your cultural identity?
My name is Aida Maria Toro, hence why I’m known and published as Aida M. Toro. I was raised in West New York, New Jersey by Colombian parents who migrated from Medellin, known as La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera or The City of Eternal Spring in the 1970s. Growing up, I was raised with strong “Paisa” customs and traditions, such as: the food, music, and its particularly humorous jargon. The term “Paisas” refers to the people of Medellín and the towns of Antioquia. At home, I simultaneously learned both Spanish and English, as my parents were already in the states for about 20 years. I am blessed to have the highly acclaimed “paisa accent” which is considered to be the most beautiful and eloquent Spanish speaking accent among Latin Americans. Whenever I speak Spanish, it’s highly likely that I’ll be asked: “Are you Colombian?”.
What does being a Latina/Hispanic Journalist and fashion editor mean to you?
Being a Latina journalist in the fashion industry is such a treat to me because the publishing and fashion industries are indeed competitive as we know. I never thought I’d be where I am today, even though the journey was longer than expected. The journey, however, has not ended. For me, this is just the beginning, and representing Latinas in this journey is an obligation I will humbly carry forth with honor.
Can you tell us what Hispanic Heritage Month is and why is it important to you?
Hispanic Heritage Month is an annual celebration recognizing the contributions and influences of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of this great country. I feel it’s important because my community has made a difference in so many areas, such as: politics, sports, business enterprises, music, and of course fashion. Also, it gives me great satisfaction to see my people achieve certain milestones, such as being able to graduate college and purchasing a home. Latinos have been on the rise and they continue to strive to better themselves more and more.
Have you experienced any challenges in the professional world as a Latina/Hispanic woman? Can you share positive moments as well?
Being Latina, I always thought it was more challenging to become a writer because I allowed other people to instill their fears and stigmas of how much more Latinos and minorities had to struggle in order to be successful. I might have even been discriminated against in some way or form, and perhaps I have even been naïve to it. However, as I delved into my field back in 2011 when I had my first fashion editorial internship at a really well known publication, I was taken by the absence of Latino journalists and fashion stylists, which of course resulted in the external fears and stigmas resonating more and more. One thing I never did was give up on my dream, and when I realized the challenge wasn’t being a LATINA, I realized it was my mindset instead.
You live and you learn. Once I changed my mindset, everything started flowing into the palm of my hand. I knew I was a great connector, a talented writer, and had an eye for style and all the other beautiful things the world offered, so I started to embrace and TRULY LOVE the woman I was. Speaking Spanish is also an amazing skill under my belt because I write stories about so many people that are part of the Latin community who only speak Spanish and it’s just amazing that I can communicate with them in our native language as well as story tell in such a meaningful way. So, here I am! Proudly representing Latinos and helping pave the way for Latino journalists. In my heart, I feel that no matter what race you are, you need to keep pushing, be diligent, work hard, and stay humble and honest, and it will manifest itself in return.
What does Hispanic heritage mean to you and how has your heritage shaped who you are today?
To me, Hispanic Heritage defines celebrating YOURSELF, celebrating a COMMUNITY, and OWNING who you are. My Colombian heritage has molded me into the woman I am in more ways that I can think of. I am proud to pertain to a hard working and thriving community that has pulled through many struggles and inequalities in this country. I can attest to this through my parent’s own story, who have worked so hard since they migrated here. You could say I’m here to continue their legacy.
How do you celebrate and spread awareness about Hispanic Heritage Month?
I celebrate and spread awareness by encouraging Latinos to not give up on their dreams, no matter what anyone says. Embrace your roots, your heritage, your skin color, your music, your food. Embrace it all and never feel ashamed of it. It makes you who you are.
What are your favorite foods from your Hispanic Culture? Can you provide a recipe?
Colombia, in general, has a vast and interesting gastronomy, depending on the region. As I mentioned, I’m representing “Paisas”, and if you ask a “paisa” what’s one thing they can’t live without, I’m very sure all paisas will say it’s Arepas! Arepas are these delicious corn meal cakes that could be eaten plain, or with butter, or butter and cheese, or whatever you want to throw on it. My favorite way to eat an arepa is with “Quesito Colombiano”, which is typical farmer’s cheese, topped with crispy “Chicharron”, which is pork belly. Arepas are a staple of Colombian culture nationally. Also, whomever knows me, knows I love a sweet treat. With that said, I have a weakness for Obleas with Arequipe. Obleas are big, round, thin caramel wafers.
Arepa with Quesito recipe:
- 1 cup of cornmeal mix
- 1 cup of hot water
- ½ grated queso costeño
- ½ stick of butter
- Queso costeño pieces to fill
- Salt to taste
How to Make Arepa Quesito
In a bowl and using your hands, mix all the ingredients well except the pieces of cheese that we will use later. We create little balls with the mallet and on a flat surface. Then, with a plastic bag, flatten and create circles of equal size (we can use a glass to create the shape). In a preheated pan greased with oil, we put the arepas to brown. When one of the sides is golden, we flip and put the pieces of cheese and the other arepa on top creating a little sandwich. Once golden browned on both sides, we serve.
What do you wish others knew about your culture?
Colombians have been the talk of the town for a while now. What can I say? We’re pretty cool… haha…all jokes aside though, I wish people knew how creative all Colombian individuals are…in ways that one couldn’t imagine! I’m sure most people know that Colombia is a top coffee exporter, but did you also know that Colombia is a major exporter of flowers? If you’re ever in the flower district in NYC look at the box or ask the vendors where these flowers are coming from. A little side note, In Medellin they celebrate La Feria de las Flores, “The Flower Festival”, which celebrates hundreds of local flower growers called “silleteros”, who parade through the streets of Medellin with giant flower displays strapped to their backs. It’s an extravagant 10 day celebration, filled with culture, food, music, and of course flowers!
What are some of the things you love most about your Hispanic heritage? Or what are you most proud of regarding your Hispanic heritage?
I really appreciate that Colombians are known as some of the warmest people out there. I see it in my own family, as my mother, aunts & uncle, and cousins are all very warm and friendly. Also, I’ve known one particular Colombian, who I’ve known for 32 years, that exemplifies grit and hardwork…if you’re curious to know who this particular individual is, this person is my dad. My dad is the greatest example of what it is to work hard and achieve the “American Dream”.
I love the fact that Colombians are known to have style, taste and grace. I can say is true because growing up, I’d always see my parents and brother dressed to the nines in their own style, which is why I am the way I am with my style. Also, I love that Colombians are recognized for their positive attributes and not just for the negative stigmas of drugs and narcos. Being Colombian is pretty awesome!